August 03, 2015

Monday Review: ALL THE RAGE by Courtney Summers

Summary: I finished reading this one today…and I just started reading it last night, right before bed. When I picked it up again this morning to enjoy with my coffee, it turned out to be basically un-put-down-able. It's easy to see how this suspenseful and wrenching story got starred reviews. The author takes the themes of bullying, rape, and small-town small-mindedness and draws an intensely personal story told from the viewpoint of Romy, the girl nobody likes—not just at her school, where she's bullied and accused of being a liar for the things she's said about the sheriff's son, Kellan Turner, but also by the assorted busybodies around the town of Grebe.

We live in a culture that sometimes prefers to blame the victim when it's too difficult to blame the perpetrator, and this story brings that difficult reality into harsh and believable relief. It is clear from the punchy, intense flashback scenes that begin the story that Romy is not at fault for the trauma she's suffered. But the blame game is so effective that even Romy feels like there's something wrong with her, and like she can never tell her side of the story. Who would believe her?

The only place where she feels normal now is at her job, waiting tables at a diner outside of town. She even meets a nice guy there, Leon—but even that relationship is complicated by the painful issues in her past. And those issues rear their ugly heads when something terrible happens at a party out by the lake: a girl—Romy's former best friend, Penny—goes missing.

Peaks: The suspense in this one really knocked me out, as did the visceral descriptions not only of Romy's painful experiences but also of her inner torment. The reader is shown how intently Romy armors herself for the outside world with perfect red nail polish and lipstick, trying so hard not to show weakness, and yet still being bullied, pranked, and even assaulted at school. The contrast with her relatively peaceful (now, anyway) home life is staggering; it is a relief to see that there is something good, some hope in her existence, but at the same time it's a source of fear and frustration for the reader, to see the new home that Romy's mother and her boyfriend, Todd, are building together with Romy. Her family loves her but she is unable to break her silence, to tell them what's happening to her. The characters of her mother and almost-stepdad are well drawn, and they are an integral part of the story—of course, there's no way, in such a small town, that everyone isn't involved on some level. That part was also depicted in excruciating detail, the incestuous and ridiculous feuding and fussing of a town where everyone knows the skeletons in everyone else's closets.

Another thing I really liked was the relationship between Romy and Leon, how naturally and easily it developed, and how it complicated the story. The way the book was written and the way the beginning unfolded, my initial reaction to him was unease; he was just TOO nice. But the worse the rest of Romy's life got, the more I was rooting for them to succeed as a couple, to make it through, and for the happiness and positivity of Leon's family to spill over into Romy's life somehow.

Valleys: Because this was such a fast read, I did end up feeling like a couple of aspects of the story could have been explored a bit more deeply. One of those was Leon and Romy's relationship—I didn't get a deep sense of the implications of racial tension, though it was briefly mentioned once or twice. While this did not need to be a story about interracial dating per se or about racism, I expected to have more of a sense of what it meant for Leon and his family to be not only black, but black and successful, in an environment where people seemed to be mostly white and where poverty was clearly visible. However, this story was much more about the events, and the emotions and actions of the characters involved, and less about the specific setting and its socioeconomic context, so it didn't impede my enjoyment.

Conclusion: Highly recommended for fans of books like Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, and stories about the empowerment that lies in taking the courageous step to break a silence that needs to be broken.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library's ebook collection. You can find ALL THE RAGE by Courtney Summers at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

No comments: